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Where Do Wrongful Death Claims Come From?

By Breyer Law Offices on April 29, 2021

Arizona’s wrongful death statute was created as a way for family members to seek compensation for their loss of a loved one due to someone else’s negligence. These claims operate under many of the same legal concepts as personal injury claims, such as requiring a breach of duty of care and tangible damages, but they also have unique restrictions on who can file them and what compensation can be provided. The complex history surrounding the statute has a lot to do with that.

Inspiration from Lord Campbell’s Act

While dog bite laws and personal injury claims have their origins in “common law,” precedents that were carried over from England into the United States when the country was first settled, wrongful death claims are “newer” to our country. While each state has its own individual statutes, most drew inspiration from the Fatal Accidents Act of 1846, or Lord Campbell’s Act, which originated in England and Wales in response to a series of railway accidents.

Under common law, if someone died due to another person’s negligence, his family could not receive compensation for economic losses or emotional trauma. As a result, most families were left destitute if their main breadwinner passed away. However, with the passage of Lord Campbell’s Act, the husband, children, or parents of the deceased could pursue claims for damages “proportioned to the injury resulting from such death.”

While this act would later be repealed and replaced with the Fatal Accidents Act of 1976, it created the basis for wrongful death statutes in England. Under this act, specific family members could recover money from the wrongdoer who caused their loved one’s death. But Lord Campbell’s Act was also limited, only allowing husbands, children, or parents to file claims; the 1976 Act allowed wives to pursue claims as well.

Wrongful Death in the States

While Lord Campbell’s Act created the basis for a modern wrongful death claim in England, the United States made its own advances in personal injury law over the 19th century. As our cities grew and individuals became more independent from their families, we developed concepts like household incomes, personal wages, and employer liability. As people became more independently wealthy, lawyers and politicians had to determine how to handle accidental injuries and compensation.

Previous claims for damages only accounted for loss of services, so lawyers in the 1800s began to argue that plaintiffs were entitled to lost wages and personal incomes. They argued that an independent worker required compensation to maintain his livelihood after an injury. However, there was another obstacle that lawyers had to deal with: high death rates. Due to the state of health care at the time, most injuries ended in death. And due to the existing common law concepts, once a worker had died, his family could no longer file a claim for emotional or financial compensation.

Over time, U.S. lawyers argued against these concepts and pushed for a more merciful approach to wrongful death claims. The Superior Court of Georgia, for example, eventually ruled that third parties (such as a representative of the deceased’s estate) could have a stake in the wrongful death. In addition, at the same time as the passage of Lord Campbell’s Act across the pond, legislatures in New York and Massachusetts passed their own wrongful death statutes. New York’s followed the English law more closely and focused on providing compensation to the victim’s widow and next of kin.

Over the next fifty years, most of the states enacted some form of wrongful death statute based on the New York law, but still limited compensation to widows and next of kin. Husbands could only file claims as representatives of their wives’ estates and on behalf of their children. It would take many more years for this flaw to be corrected and for all types of damages to be included in a claim. As mentioned earlier, most claims dealt with compensation for a loss of services, such as the financial support of a husband, but courts eventually included compensation related to medical care and lost wages.

Arizona’s Wrongful Death Statute

During many of these debates, Arizona was still a territory. It did not become an official state until February 14, 1912. Many lawyers were practicing in Arizona before we joined the rest of the states, and we did develop the Arizona Revised Statues in 1901. Among these was Arizona’s first wrongful death statute under Title 35 Injuries Resulting in Death. This was later replaced when we became a state, and our wrongful death laws now follow Arizona Revised Statute 12-612.

Let’s break down the current wrongful death law:

  • A surviving husband, wife, child, parent or guardian, or personal representative of an estate can file an action for wrongful death.
  • If a child passed away, either parent can file an action. If the child had a legal guardian, the guardian may file an action.
  • The money recovered in a wrongful death action will be divided among the people mentioned above, in proportion to their damages. If the money is recovered for the deceased’s estate, then that money is now one asset of the estate in whole.
  • If any person listed above is found guilty of the death of the person for whom the action is filed, that person is disqualified from receiving any wrongful death benefits.
  • A “personal representative” of an estate means any person who has been granted letters of testamentary or of administration by a competent authority (like a judge) in Arizona or any other state.

Speak to a Compassionate Law Team

If you lost a family member due to someone else’s negligence, you may be eligible to receive compensation for your loss. We know no amount of money can replace your loved one, but you should not be burdened with a loss in income, leftover medical bills, funeral bills, and other damages caused by this untimely death. The Husband and Wife Law Team understands that you are going through the most difficult time in your life, which is why we provide compassionate and dedicated legal representation to families throughout Phoenix.

Our Phoenix wrongful death attorneys can sit down with you in a free consultation and listen to what happened to your loved one. If you choose to work with us, you will not owe us a dime unless we win you compensation. Mark Breyer, is a certified specialist in wrongful death law, making him one of 2% of attorneys in Arizona who specialize in these types of case. We can review every detail of your case to determine who is at fault for your loved one’s death and advocate for full compensation on your behalf. When you are ready to discuss your case, call us at (602) 267-1280.

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